PNT Day 2: Going Downhill

Today’s miles: 17

Total miles: 24.9

It’s cooler in the night, but not as cold as I’d like it to be. I sleep like a rock and wake feeling remarkably well. The mosquitoes are back, but either they’re lazy or my permethrin treatment is really doing its job, because they’re not really biting. I get water from the lake and feel fine to eat a bar for breakfast before heading out. Today is almost all downhill and I’m optimistic.

Tent site by Juanita Lake, in the morning.

The air is cool and I’m in the shade for most of the morning. A few uphill sections really take it out of me — I must still be recovering from yesterday. But I generally hike at a reasonable clip. I feel more like myself, and am relieved. I stop short when I see a thin snake across the trail — all one color, a pale muddy green. “Are you alive?” I ask out loud, tossing a bit of dirt in its direction. It is not. I step around it and carry on.

Juanita Lake

I stop for a small lunch, not feeling super hungry but not too worried about it. I’m able to eat some meat sticks and corn chips, so at least I get some salt intake. But after this, around 11am, I start to fade. The shade is gone. Though I’m glad to be going downhill (less taxing), I’m descending farther into the heat as I go. The sun is relentless. I approach a very gravelly curve and suddenly feel my outside foot slip in the scree and out from under me. I go down into the rubble, tearing a small hole in my pants and obtaining a minor scrape on my knee. Oops. Fortunately there’s a big shaded creek just ahead, where I can sit on the rocks and drink lots of cold water.

Nice views on my way down, despite the heat.

Back into the heat. It’s crushing me. I start to take shade breaks like yesterday, crouching on rocks and tree roots, trying to bring my internal temperature down for the next round. Sometimes there’s a breeze, but it’s a hot breeze, like the rush of heat when you open the oven door, which reminds me of my summers in Davis and does not benefit me much here.

Just after 1pm, I hit the junction — I can turn north to go to my campsite a half mile on, or I can turn south to hike 2.5 miles to the road and another half mile to the famed Stehekin Bakery. The latter was always my plan, but as I sit at the junction, I’m torn. I will not want to hike those 2.5 miles going up on the way back. But I do want something cold to drink. Then, a brilliant compromise: I will leave my bear can behind a bush at this junction sign, significantly lightening my pack, and pick it up as I head to the campsite later.

Down down a hot dusty trail to the road, all the while wondering if I made a mistake adding these miles to my day. At the road, I’m exhausted, and pull out my Tyvek to recuperate before tackling the roadwalk. Two day hikers and their dog come down the trail to their car. “Do you know what time the bakery closes?” I ask, giving them what I hope is a pitiful face that will prompt them to offer me a ride. But they just answer my question, let their dog lick my hand, and drive away.

Looking down at the Stehekin River and town. I’d have to climb all the way back up later.

The roadwalk is flat, at least. I’m slowly dying in the relentless heat. The bakery has no air conditioning and with my face mask on I feel like I’m going to pass out. I try to assess the foods but just grab an apple juice and a 7-Up (no Gatorades, sadly) and collapse outside in the shade. It takes me almost an hour to feel close to okay again. How hot is it, anyway? I chat with another hiker outside, who tells me tomorrow will be 106! I know I can’t do the climb I have planned in that kind of heat. I begin to think about alternatives. I want to eat a pastry from the bakery but the only thing that’s appetizing is ice cream, so I eat a big cup of mint chocolate chip and it’s perfect. The bakery closes and I sit in the shade until almost six, then begin my return trip.

It’s terrible. Once I start to climb back up to camp — even when it’s not steep, even without my bear can — I’m struggling to an embarrassing degree. It still feels hot as hell, I’m sweating profusely, and I just can’t make my legs go. It’s the longest 2.5 miles ever. Near the end, I am able to go one or two tenths of a mile before having to sit or bend over and regroup. This is not sustainable or safe, I know. I make a new plan: tomorrow morning, instead of continuing on to the Rainbow Creek Trail, I’ll hike out to the road and catch the bus to the ranch, and hope they have a room available. If I can rest there and wait out tomorrow’s heat, I can slightly change my route to still make my intended campsites.

At the junction, I pull electrolytes out of my bear can and drink them gratefully. Then it’s another half mile to camp, where a group of four has already set up and the only spot left is one teeny, rocky space. I chat with them briefly about the heat (“We can’t wait to get out of here tomorrow, this is dangerous!” the chattiest one tells me).

There’s not quite enough space for my tent but I make do, and lie down as dusk is just starting to fall. I’m too overheated and tired to eat. I’m warm in just my sleep clothes and don’t even pull my quilt out.

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